I have often lamented the fact that GLBT stories (the ones I’ve read, anyhow) tend to dwell on tGerry B's Book Reviews - http://gerrycan.wordpress.com
I have often lamented the fact that GLBT stories (the ones I’ve read, anyhow) tend to dwell on the serious side of life: bigotry, discrimination, complicated romances and such, so Deefur Dog by R.J. Scott [Silver Publishing, 2011] was a pleasant departure. I mean, who couldn’t like a story about a dog, a kid, a single father and light-hearted mayhem?
The basic story revolves around a young single father, Cameron Jackson, his two year old daughter, and a Great Dane named Deefur. Deefur reminds me of the comic strip, canine character, “Marmaduke”—a well-meaning giant who is forever running afoul of human logic (which ain’t so hard to do in some cases).
Jackson is a modern dad, inasmuch as he’s trying to run a household, be a father, and manage a growing business all at the same time. A live-in nanny seems to be the answer to the domestic side of it, but not to Deefur. For one thing the house is his den, and protecting the “pup” is his responsibility, so strangers must pass inspection before they enter his territory . Besides, some strangers simply don’t smell right.
In this human-dominated world, however, canine logic is not always understood, and so it is Deefur who must make way.
Enter Jason Everson, young, hardworking animal lover, who just happens to be looking for a job as a nanny and needs a place to live. Moreover, he even passes Deefur’s inspection. Voilà! Now, the only question remaining is whether the recently-bereft Cameron will find love again.
This is a heartwarming story, and as I said above, “who couldn’t like a story about a dog, a kid, a single father?” It’s basically well written, too, and I love the cover, but there are some slight drawbacks between it and five bees.
By his own admission R.J. Scott is a romantic, and I think this tends toward a “happy ever after” scenario before the wrap-up even comes along. For example, I thought the serendipitous meeting with Jason was a bit too opportune, and his acceptance by Deefur somewhat tidy. I hasten to add these are not serious flaws because the story is supposed to be light, but even toffee requires a little salt to enhance the flavour.
That said, I liked it as a feel-good summer read that would go nicely with gin and tonic. Four bees....more
I was first drawn to My Brother and His Brother [Bruno Gmunder Verlag Gmbh, 2011]by the intriguiGerry B's Book Reviews - http://gerrycan.wordpress.com
I was first drawn to My Brother and His Brother [Bruno Gmunder Verlag Gmbh, 2011]by the intriguing title, as well as the strikingly handsome, Nordic lad portrayed on the front cover by photographer Howard Roffman. Now, I’ll admit that this is not the best way to choose a novel—“you can’t judge a book by its cover,” etc.—but fortunately Håkan Lindquist came through with an intriguing story as well.
Written in Swedish in 1993, but not translated until 2002, My Brother and His Brother, tells the intriguing story of Paul Lundberg, deceased older brother of Jonas Lundberg, who undertakes to piece it together from clues hidden away in his parent’s attic, newspaper archives, and the mind of a family friend.
Compelling Jonas onward is the desire to know something of his brother who died under curious circumstances in front of a train. The cause of his death is particularly curious because, in the course of his discovery, Jonas learns that Paul had a rather intense love affair with another boy.
So was it a suicide prompted by Paul’s inability to come to grips with his newly-discovered sexuality? Or perhaps a lover’s tiff? Or was it something more sinister? The answer to any one of these questions would make an intriguing story, but to all this Lindquist has added the quest for closure when the loss of a family member might have been caused by suicide on account of his homosexuality.
There is also a coming of age dimension, for in unravelling the truths about his brother Jonas is also learning about himself. Therefore it is an epiphany of sorts, and also a bridge that brings the family closer—particularly between Jonas and his father.
This is a ‘sweet’ story of brotherly love, a topic not often explored, but thoroughly poignant and enjoyable. Five bees....more
You may have noticed I have a passion for WWII-vintage stories, and have reviewed several in theGerry B's Book Reviews - http://gerrycan.wordpress.com
You may have noticed I have a passion for WWII-vintage stories, and have reviewed several in the past. I like the era in general. It was a time when the free-world was drawn together by a war in two theatres, and men bonded together as warrior brothers—and sometimes more. Wingmen by Ensan Case (a pseudonym) [Cheyenne Publishing, 2012] captures the latter phenomenon with remarkable clarity and credibility. It is, in fact, one of the best war stories I have read.
Ensign Frederick “Trusty” Trusteau, one of two wingmen assigned to “skipper,” Lieutenant Commander J.J. “Jack” Hardigan. Trusteau is a handsome, capable aviator, who has honed his reputation as a “whoremaster” because that was (and is) the gold standard among predominantly male societies. It was very often a sham, or cover-up, but it was better than being considered the “odd-man-out.”
Jack Hardigan is a hard-drinking, hard driving skipper, who is dating a wealthy widow in Honolulu, but apart from a certain level of affection, there is no evidence of sexual activity between them. Therefore, there is no grand regrets when she breaks off their relationship for someone else.
The relationship between the two men starts, as it usually does, with earned respect on both sides; in this case as pilots of the famed Grumman Hellcats flown off the deck of a carrier. The bond grows stronger with each mission—warrior brothers—until it inevitably ends in a hotel room in Honolulu, where the line between brothers-in-arms and lovers is finally crosssed. However , if you are looking for a torrid, sexually erotic scene between two horny flyboys, you (gratefully) will not find it here. This scene is definitely sexy because of the circumstances—and the fact that we’ve been waiting for it for nearly two-thirds of the story—but in 1979 you didn’t write that sort of thing if you wanted to find a publisher—even an avant-garde one. Nevertheless, I think it is made a more realistic story because of it. This a story about men in love in war, and not about sex per se.
Of course the story wouldn’t be complete without an appropriate setting, and Case has provided it on board a fictional aircraft carrier, the Constitution. You can almost smell the sweat and testosterone in these scenes as they jostle aboard her. His apparent knowledge of naval aircraft is an asset as well, with just enough detail to help the reader understand without bogging the pace down in the process.
For those into WWII nostalgia there are also well-known battles, i.e. Wake Island, Tarawa and Truk Lagoon, where most of the Japanese Imperial fleet was wiped out—60 ships and 275 airplanes. Case has also provided an insight into the gruesomeness of war in some tense scenes where men are shot down, blown apart, and drowned mercilessly in the fray, and in the end Jack risks his life to save his lover.
Nevertheless, I agree with several other reviewers that the story should have ended on a high in 1945. The last part is interesting, mind you, and wraps up some loose ends, but it is anticlimactical. Given the excellence of the preceding, however, I’m not letting it dampen my overall impression. Five bees....more
Every once in a while I get a yen to read a gothic tale—something like the compulsion for a decaGerry B's Book Reviews - http://gerrycan.wordpress.com
Every once in a while I get a yen to read a gothic tale—something like the compulsion for a decadent dessert—so when I came across one in the gay genre I just had to order a serving.
The Master of Seacliff by Max Pierce [Lethe Press, 2012] is a gothic novel written in the classical style, with a quintessential brooding mansion atop a seaside cliff; a cast of eccentric servants; a young innocent (male); and a darkly-handsome master with a slightly sinister reputation.
Young Andrew Wyndham, driven by his ambition to study art in Paris, takes a position as tutor to the son of a wealthy, hardnosed businessman, Duncan Stewart. He therefore travels from his modest home in Manhattan to take up residence at “Seacliff,” Stewart’s remote seaside estate on the Atlantic Coast.
His arrival is none too encouraging when the first person he encounters is a grizzled man who warns him to flee for his life—and his soul. He nonetheless carries on, and eventually hears that Duncan is rumoured to have shot his father and his father’s friend in order to gain control of the family business.
However, this is not the only mystery hanging over Seacliff Manor, for Duncan’s protégé (and secret lover), pianist Steven Charles, disappeared a year before Andrew’s arrival and his absence has cast further suspicion on Duncan. But Duncan is a man who can be disarmingly charming, as well as irascible, and so Andrew is more intrigued by him than frightened.
Other characters populate this story, as well: The dour and suspicious butler; the (gay) brother and sister who own the neighbouring estate; Duncan’s son, Timothy; and the mute son of the housekeeper’s daughter (who leaped from the cliff when she found her lover had been murdered.)
All is revealed in the end, but in the meantime it is a fun read, almost reminiscent of suspects ‘popping in and out of doors’ in an Agatha Christie novel. Highly recommended. Four bees....more
Until I came across "Eromenos" by Melanie McDonald [Seriously Good Books, 2011] I had never befoGerry B's Book Reviews - http://gerrycan.wordpress.com
Until I came across "Eromenos" by Melanie McDonald [Seriously Good Books, 2011] I had never before heard of Antinous of Bithynia, or his legendary affair with the Emperor Hadrian. Just how I could have missed such a charming page in history (referred to as the “real life version of Zeus and Ganymede”) I don’t know, but I am certainly grateful to Ms McDonald for introducing me to it in such an entertaining way.
Antinous was born in the town of Bithynion-Claudiopolis, in the Greek province of Bithynia, and the story is told in his voice as a recollection. At about 12 years Antinous is sent to Nikomedia for his education, and it is there that he catches the eye of Hadrian on one of his many tours. With a ready eye for beautiful young boys, Hadrian invites him to join his imperial retinue as a page.
This is fairly heady stuff for a farm lad from one of the Greek provinces, but even more honours were to follow when Hadrian asked him to be his personal attendant on a hunting trip, and eventually into his bed.
As one might expect, however, being the catamite of a living god had its ups and downs, as Antinous would soon discover, for Hadrian was by profession a general as well as emperor, and thereby firmly in command of everyone around him. Nonetheless, Antinous somehow learned to cope with the vagaries of both the emperor and the imperial court for some seven years.
Nevertheless, as he approached manhood (around 19) he began to realize the he could no longer be Hadrian’s lover because of public opinion and because Hadrian preferred younger boys; therefore, Antinous decided to sacrifice himself to the gods and the man he loved. At least that is how the story goes, for no one really knows for certain.
One researcher has put it this way:
“One may well wonder why a young and vibrant man would sacrifice himself for his Emperor and for Rome. There is the obvious answer that people often do strange and illogical things for love. Antinous may well have believed that he would win immortality in the waters of the Nile and hence may not have seen his death as an end to his life. And, although there is no direct evidence that Antinous was suffering from a depression, he had to have realized that he was passing the age of eromenos. Within a year or two at most Antinous would either have to give up his position as royal favorite or accustom himself to the condemnation, “pathetic.” Whatever would become of Antinous after his decline from favorite could only be a lessening of position and if he truly loved Hadrian he would undoubtedly be alarmed at the prospect of ending their relationship not only for reasons of status, but for reasons of the heart. Or, perhaps, Antinous had simply grown to feel shame at his position and was driven into the waters with a sense of helplessness and lack of self worth that could scarcely be considered rare in teenagers of any time period.” http://ladyhedgehog.hedgie.com/antino....
The days following Antinous’s death brought great emotional upheaval and strain to the emperor. Trudging through a despair and sense of guilt, Hadrian’s first impulse was to follow his beloved into the otherworld. However, Hadrian was emperor and his life was not really his to give, and so in compensation he declared Antinous a god.
For whatever reason Antinous entered the waters of the Nile, therefore, he did obtain a form of immortality. Had he passed quietly from his role as favourite he may well have disappeared from history, but with his death and Hadrian’s response to it, he was assured a place in future remembrance—such as this book.
This novel is a textbook example of how historical fact and fiction should meet in a seamless, agreeable balance, so that one does not outweigh the other. Moreover the characters are well developed, and as far as I could determine, historically accurate. I rate is fairly-well faultless. Five bees.
Note: I note the Seriously Good Books is a new publisher with a worthy mission. i.e. “SERIOUSLY GOOD BOOKS hopes to survive and thrive as a small, independent press publishing historical fiction of lasting quality. Here you will find solid historical fiction that enlightens as well as entertains. From time to time, SG Books may select a work of literary fiction, a notable thriller, or some other surprise, so be sure to bookmark and visit these pages frequently.” See: http://www.seriouslygoodbooks.net/#!_......more
“Listening to Dust” by Brandon Shire [TPG Books, 2012] is not a book to tackle if you’re feelingGerry B's Book Reviews - http://gerrycan.wordpress.com
“Listening to Dust” by Brandon Shire [TPG Books, 2012] is not a book to tackle if you’re feeling depressed. It is both raw and uncompromising, and it is sure to evoke a gut response from most readers. Nevertheless, it is a thought provoking read and well worth the investment.
The story focuses on a chance meeting between two men with complex and troubled backgrounds, and who find solace in a similarly complex relationship. There is nothing particularly romantic about this affair, and yet it is entirely credible. Relationships do not run smooth, especially same-sex relationships when the public decides to get involved (directly or indirectly), and particularly if that public happens to be the closed minds of a backwater town.
Shire delves into all these aspects with an unrelenting frankness that defies political correctness, i.e. a “drunk” for a father, a “druggy” for a mother, and a “dummy” brother. Yet any other language would have seemed pale in context.
I liked the character development of Stephen and Dusty, and the unexpected twists in their tenuous relationship. On the other hand, I wasn’t quite convinced with Robbie’s character (his language, I think), and there were a few times when I got lost by the changing narration. But, otherwise this is a well-written exploration of human nature, both the good and the profane. Four bees....more
I’m still somewhat at a loss to understand what the title has to do with sheep farming, but thisGerry B's Book Review - http://gerrycan.wordpress.com
I’m still somewhat at a loss to understand what the title has to do with sheep farming, but this passing quandary didn’t detract from my enjoyment of Scrap Metal by Harper Fox [Samhain Publishing, Ltd., 2012].
The story blurb covers the rudiments of the story fairly well. A scholarly lad (Nichol) returns to take over the family’s sheep farm located on a rugged island off the coast of Scotland. All that remains of his family is his dour grandfather (Harry), a somewhat cantankerous gentleman equal in personality to the harshness of the setting.
Enter a comely young stranger, street-savvy but nonetheless on the run from some sinister elements in the big city of Glasgow, whereupon Nichol—rather rashly—invites him to stay on and help with the farm.
As you can no doubt ascertain, there is nothing particularly original about the plot so far. An obligatory homecoming has been the premise of stories for ages, and a handsome stranger has been turning up in barns for just as long. However, what rescues this one from being mundane (even trite) is Ms Fox’s ability to weave characters and setting together in interesting ways. The interaction, therefore, is not just between the three main characters, but includes the craggy island, the prevailing weather and the farm as well.
Ms Fox also has a fine sense of timing. I enjoyed the way she paced the growing relationship between Nichol and Cam, allowing them to bond as comrades before coupling them as lovers. Cam’s eventual earning of the grandfather’s admiration was also handled quite nicely. These are telling points, I think, because any rushing to bed by the two boys would have really cheapened it, and men of Harry’s vintage aren’t easily won over—spoken as a contemporary.
There were a few minor inconsistencies, but since these were so minor they do not bear mentioning. Altogether a solid, well-written novel. Four bees....more
Although I have conducted an active search to find Canadian writers of GLBT fiction, it was onlyGerry B's Book Reviews - http://gerrycan.wordpress.com
Although I have conducted an active search to find Canadian writers of GLBT fiction, it was only this week that Bonds of Earth, by GN Chevalier [Dreamspinner Press, 2012] came to my attention. Perhaps, this is because it is her debut novel, or perhaps it is because the Canadian connection just never made it to the surface.
Bonds of Earth is a historical fiction set in the period directly following WWI. The “Great War”, or the “War to end all wars,” was by all accounts a horrendous experience for those who participated. “Trench warfare” meant months of standing in muddy ditches, with “trench foot” attacking your feet, and the sounds of enemy artillery shells passing overhead for hours on end. It also meant all-out charges through and over ‘razor wire’ while being shot at by machine guns and sniper rifles.
Out of this hell came two men, Michael McCready, the son of poor Irish immigrant and a brilliant medical student, and John Seward, a wealthy recluse, both indelibly scarred by the experience.
Their coming together is fateful, which is the way fate often works, when Michael is coerced into taking a rural job as a gardener, and ends up on John’s estate (actually belonging to an aunt). The fact that Michael is the equivalent of a massage therapist, and that John is handicapped is serendipitous as well.
If that was it (the plot) it would be a “so-so” book at best, but Chevalier (a name tailor-made for a writer) shows great insight by pitting them together as antagonists to start. This bit of angst greatly contributes to the characterization of the two protagonists, and leads inevitably to the resolution.
I also liked the way she gave character to the supporting cast; each one serving a secondary role but interesting in their own way.
The tenor of the times is captured nicely, as well, and the pace is good … right up until (as it has been mentioned at least a dozen times) the epilogue. It’s not a fatal flaw. In fact I wouldn’t even call it a serious flaw, but being anticlimactical it detracts from the overall enjoyment like one-too-many desserts.
[Editorial comment: The Goodreads’ posting of this book comes with a caveat, i.e. “Publisher’s Note: This book contains explicit sexual situations, graphic language, and material that some readers may find objectionable: male/male sexual practices,” which I find ‘objectionable’. Were this a heterosexual story with heterosexual ‘sexual practices’ would it have the same caveat? I think not. Therefore it is demeaning at best.]
This is the second of Z.A. Maxfield’s stories I have reviewed (see: St. Nacho’s, February, 2010) and I am happy to say that Secret Light [Loose ID LLC, 2011] is generally of the same well-written calibre.
Set in 1955, a period when the memory of WWII is still fresh in many people’s minds, we find Rafe Colman, an gay Austrian DP (displaced person) with his own, tragic memories of the war. These include the death of his parents and the murder of his dearest friends, a gay couple, and so he is understandably and profoundly affected by these events.
As is so often the case (it certainly was in mine) he has learned to cope by adopting a persona that ‘fits’ mainstream expectations; especially for a single man–nice guy with an eye for the ladies, friendly with everyone but seldom personal, successful with a medium-high profile. The problem with role playing of this nature is that it sublimates the real person inside, and no one can be allowed behind the scenes for a closer look.
Of course, this doesn’t prevent some busy bodies from drawing their own conclusions, rightly or wrongly, and from acting on them on account of prejudice or spite. So, when Colman’s house is vandalized because he is perceived as ‘German,’ the police become involved in the person of officer Ben Morgan; a closeted gay man, himself.
Call it “gaydar,” or whatever, the two of them come to recognize themselves in the other, and a relationship is formed based on mutual understanding, honesty and caring. It is not all cotton candy and roses, however, but at least the promise of an HEA ending is there.
While the plot circumstances aren’t particularly original, as they were in “St. Nacho’s”, the same attention to detail and atmosphere has been used to give the reader a sense of time and place. The character-development is also topnotch, which adds greatly to the credibility of their actions, and the pace allows the reader to appreciate both these aspects.
The drawback for me was the somewhat obvious story manipulation, resulting in resolutions that were just a bit on the convenient side. I hasten to add that these were not incredible in nature, but they were noticeable enough to affect my score.
Altogether, though, I have no hesitation in recommending Secret Light as an enjoyable read for all its great parts. Four bees....more
I love a good western—especially if it is written in the classical style of Calico, by Dorien GrGerry B's Book Reviews - http://gerrycan.wordpress.com
I love a good western—especially if it is written in the classical style of Calico, by Dorien Grey [Zumaya Publications, 2006]. To me this genre speaks of an earlier, simpler time, populated by strong, independent men and women who set the foundation of our present-day nation(s). They were simple folk, and yet they possessed a nobleness of spirit based primarily on the “Golden Rule,” i.e. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” [I hasten to add, however, that my preference does not run to gratuitous, rodeo-like romps from one bed to another; which I generally pass up.]
Calico Ramsey fits the bill of a hard-working, dedicated cowboy, raised by a kindly rancher , “uncle Dan,” who took him in when he was orphaned. To get the plot rolling, Dan is unexpectedly named guardian of his twin, seventeen-year-old niece and nephew, Sarah and Josh, who are on their way from Chicago.
Nevertheless, tragedy strikes when Dan is murdered, and Calico picks up the task of meeting the twins at the railway station, and also delivering them to Dan’s sister, Rebecca, who lives in far off Colorado. Moreover, the plot thickens when it becomes evident that someone is out to kill them.
Since Calico is the oldest (at 27) he assumes the role of leader, and also undertakes to protect Josh and Sarah from harm; a not-so-easy task when confronted by fires, rock slides, stampedes, and the like. But, as the old saying goes: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” all this adventure draws the three of them closer together—especially Josh and Calico, who like most trail mates gradually build a bond of mutual admiration and respect. Comrades first, and then lovers when a handshake isn’t enough.
Having said that, I should point our that while this is a sweet, romantic relationship, it is strictly Platonic when is comes to sex. In other words, there ain’t none.
This, I presume, has to do with it being targeted toward a ‘young adult’ readership, which has never really been satisfactorily defined in my mind. Most adolescents could give us chapter and verse on sex and sexual practices, so where does one draw the line? Nonetheless, most writers pussyfoot around the topic of adult/youth relationships in the 16 – 20 year-old category [the age of consent is 16 in most jurisdictions], and so there is no real breakthrough here.
Nonetheless, while I demand a good plot, I am very content with a story that is sensual rather than erotic. I mean, how many ways are there of doing ‘it’ that haven’t been written about? So Dorien gets full marks on the romantic side.
My only complaint has nothing to do with this excellent, engaging, and well-written story. Rather it has to do with the story blurb, which has to be one of the poorest I’ve read (including a rather blatant typo). So someone should get their knuckles rapped for this one.
Otherwise, I loved “Calico,” and I think you will, too. Five bees....more
The so-called “Stonewall Inn Riots” of 1969 are considered the ‘enough-is-enough’ turning point in GLBT relations with the broader public, and the predominantly homophobic officials who policed it. Likewise, in Canada it was the 1982 “Bathhouse Raids that gave rise to the Gay Pride demonstrations. Imagine, therefore, that the Song of the Loon, by Richard Amory [re-released by Arsenal Pulp Press, May 1, 2005] was first published three years before Stonewall, and 16 years before the Bathhouse Raids. That make it a true artefact, and as an unapologetic homoerotic novel, it is also somewhat of a legend.
It is not to say that homoerotic books weren’t available before 1965. They were. However, they were generally badly written, and could only be purchased through P.O. boxes, or from a clandestine bookstores, like the “Glad Day Books” in Toronto, hidden away on the second floor of a non-descript building.
Although I was aware of Song of the Loon, and remember the making of the 1970, motion picture version, starring John Iverson, Morgan Royce and Lancer Ward, I never got around to reading the novel until now. I was struck, therefore, by the amount of sexual content (albeit not as explicitly written as today) and the gutsyness of the both the author and publisher in publishing it.
The plot and style are noteworthy, as well. Someone has described the style as “pastoral,” and I think this describes it very well. It is evocative of the ‘return to nature’ movement—complete with a cast of noble savages—where man is able to find his inner self in an idyllic setting; and, as one might expect, the characters are all idyllic too, including, to a lesser extent, the villains.
This is not to belittle the story in any way, for I think we have all wished for a Garden of Eden existence where the inhabitants are all hunky and horny, the risks are minimal, and homophobia does not exist.
If you are looking for the ultimate feel good story, you should give this one a try. Enthusiastically recommended. Four bees....more
As far as I can determine, Alike as Two Bees by Elin Gregory [Etopia Press, 2012] is the debut nGerry B's Book Reviews - http://gerrycan.wordpress.com
As far as I can determine, Alike as Two Bees by Elin Gregory [Etopia Press, 2012] is the debut novella for this author, and as such it is a worthy effort.
Set in ancient Greece the story focuses on Philon, a sculptor’s apprentice, who is characterized as a somewhat shy but talented boy. His character is rounded out be his fellow apprentice, Anatolios, a precocious thirteen-year-old.
Playing opposite them are Aristion, the bratish son of a wealthy patron, and his older cousin Hilarion. Due to Aristion’s bullying of Anatolios, Hilarion and Philon meet and are immediately attracted to one another. However, Aristion remains resentful and even vengeful, and when he threatens Philon, Hilarion comes to his lover’s defence and all is agreeably resolved.
This is a sweet, uncomplicated story that focuses on romance in a romantic setting. It is well written, and the characters are appealing rather than complex. In fact they are rather standard fare. Philon is the struggling good boy, Aristion is the spoiled rich kid, Anatolios is the impish-catalyst, and Hilarion is the mature kid who is attracted to the good boy.
There is nothing wrong with this type of character development, and it makes for a good solid read, but it doesn’t break any new ground, either.
Altogether, Alike as Two Bees is a happy-ever-after story that will pleasantly fill an afternoon at the beach, or an evening curled up in your easy chair. Three and one-half bees. ...more
Definition of a “catamite”: A boy kept for homosexual practices. Oxford Dictionaries
While this story doesn’t deal with a “kept” boy, (i.e. harboured or enslaved), it does deal with young boys—one older—and homosexuality. Therefore, when I first saw the title (and the evocative cover) of The Secret Catamite 1: The Book of Daniel by Patrick C. Notchtree [Limebury Books, March 19, 2012], I was intrigued to see how the author would deal with the subject matter.
You see, most writers shun the topic of adolescent and teen sexuality, even though they know it exists from having lived through it. I did, and I certainly don’t consider myself unusual in any way. Therefore, to pretend otherwise is like ignoring the proverbial elephant in the room—the one with pink wings and yellow polka dots.
Fortunately, Patrick Notchtree chooses not to demure from it in characterizing the sexual relationship between Simon and Daniel as being both natural and wholesome. To them, it is the evolution of a friendship that includes both the emotional and the physical; no secrets withheld, and no holds barred.
But The Secret Catamite is so much more than just a story of physical love. It is the story of a boy who is adjudged “different,” and because of this is made to feel different by many who are barely adjusted, themselves. The father who is emotionally maladjusted, wavering between indifference and disciplinarian; the schoolyard bullies who call him “bastard” and “simple Simon;” the teacher who tells him he should never have been born; and the Draconian headmistress who is quick with the hickory stick.
Given these two bookends, it is not at all surprising that Simon finds solace, comfort and a measure of security in Daniel.
There are also other positive moments as Simon struggles to overcome his afflictions; his small academic achievements; the excitement of being able to watch the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on the family’s very own television set, family vacations, and learning to swim. These may not seem like notable occasions now, but in the late 1940s, early 50s, these were as good as it got for simple folk.
Altogether, for me this is a breakthrough book for its sensitive portrayal of adolescent sexuality, and its ability to relate to most people’s childhood experiences. There are some flaws, but I’m going to give it five bees, anyway.
For a real-life horror story involving adolescent sexuality read the following. For the full story click on the title link.
Gossip destroys a family
BY CHRISTINA BLIZZARD ,QMI AGENCY
This is a bizarre and scary story, about how one family has been destroyed – ripped apart by a snickered conversation between two children on a school bus.
Based on that unfounded hearsay, the school bus driver spoke to the school principal, the school called Family and Child Services who called the cops.
A worker from FACS Niagara talked to the two boys. Little brother Mike recalled a time when they’d been wrestling on the ground and touched each other’s privates – outside their clothing. Their father had intervened and given them a time-out and told them to stop rolling on the floor.
The FACS worker decided to call in police.
The police officer spent another 45 minutes interviewing Mike, who steadfastly maintained that his brother hadn’t molested him, but that another boy had.
Shortly after, late one afternoon, the Smiths got a call from the Niagara Region police officer saying they were going to arrest Bobby at school the next day.
His parents asked why they’d do that in front of his peers – and said they’d bring him to the police station the next morning.
The officer balked, until John insisted that if they were going to arrest Bobby at school, he’d keep the child at home.
He is, after all, just a 12-year-old.
Bobby was forced to move out of the family home – away from Mike. Bobby and his dad moved in with the children’s grandparents in Hamilton, thinking it would be a temporary measure.
FACS told them if they didn’t do that, Bobby would be put in a detention centre.
He hasn’t been home since.
When they could no longer stay in their grandparents’ basement, and when they failed to have his bail conditions lessened, the only option was for the family to sign a temporary care agreement, which put Bobby in a group home for six months. The visiting hours when Mary and John can see their son have been limited, and Bobby has limited access to other children.
Suffer the little children? They certainly do in Niagara....more
Upon seeing that The Auspicious Troubles of Chance, by Charlie Cochet [Dreamspinner Press, 2012] waGerry B's Book Reviews - www.gerrycan.wordpress.com
Upon seeing that The Auspicious Troubles of Chance, by Charlie Cochet [Dreamspinner Press, 2012] was a story involving the French Foreign Legion—that romanticized bastion of rugged masculinity set in the middle of a desert—it peaked my curiosity. Although it is the type of setting just begging to be used in an M/M story, it has somehow been overlooked. Equally puzzling is that it didn’t figure into the front cover design. That said, it is a charming story populated with interesting, colourful characters.
Chance Irving is an orphan dropped off at a New York orphanage when he was seven years old. Subsequently he escapes to a life on the streets, and is thereby rescued by a young actress, who, along with her fellow thespians, give Chance a substitute family and home. Tragedy strikes, however, when the theatre is torched by a mobster, and Chance's closest and dearest friends die in the fire.
Alone once again, he then descends into a life of debauchery until he turns his back on it and New York, and ‘runs off’ to join the French Foreign Legion. Now, in the 1920s and until fairly recently, the Legion was where the down-and-out went to hide from life—unhappy love affairs, scandal and even petty crimes—but it was also reputed to be the toughest outfit in the world; a place where ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ was the unwritten rule.
Nonetheless, Chance is a rebel in the ranks until he encounters the commandant of an unusual company, Jacky Valentine. Valentine is a people person, gifted with insight and a disarming wit and charm. He also has a special relationship with three charming characters, whom he refers to as his “brats.” These are a trio of salvaged bad boys, similar in background to Chance, and who play a seminal role is Chance’s redemption.
It is a good story. The outstanding features are the effortless prose and the recreation of the period (1920s). A nice bit of research has gone into describing the Foreign Legion as well, but here I would have liked to see more. The character development is also excellent: Chance’s background and motivation are both credible and interesting, Jacky Valentine is the perfect foil, and the “brats” are funny and charming.
What took the top off for me was the beginning and end. The first person narrative got me off to a rocky start, mainly (I think) because it couldn’t go deep enough without sounding self-pitying or boastful. However, the middle redeemed itself quite admirably, and held my interest until the end.
The pluses outweigh the quibbles, though, so for an interesting, well developed plot I give it four bees....more
I know almost northing about New York now or in the 1860s, but after reading The Pleasuring of MenGerry B's Book Reviews - www.gerrycan.wordpress.com
I know almost northing about New York now or in the 1860s, but after reading The Pleasuring of Men by Clifford Bowder [Gival Press; 1 edition, 2011] I am sure I have a fairly credible idea of what it was like. It’s that sort of a novel.
Indeed, we get our first impression from Tom Vaughan (the protagonist and first-person narrator) in the opening of Chapter 1, i.e.
“When Mr. Neil Smythe became a roomer in our brownstone, my brother Stewart scowled and wondered if the subtle scent he gave off was cologne or “hair slime”; my mother declared his last name “elegant, and so much nicer than Smith”; and I said nothing, knowing that I’d just met the handsomest man in the world.
“That we were taking in a roomer was the result of a desperate need to put our finances in order. Since my father’s death years before, following heavy losses in a panic, my moher, having mourned him interminably, through skimping and saving had done her best to maintain herself and her two sons in our handsome brownstone on Twenty-fifth Street just off Fifth Avenue, a fashionable address that she could not bring herself to leave in a move to humbler quarters.”
And of his impressions of Mr. Neil Smythe:
“A clean-shaven young man of twenty-two, he was tall and thin, with smooth skin and wavy long blond hair. He came to us correctly dressed in a gray frock coat, fawn trousers, and bland pointed shoes, with a scarf pin and cuff links that glittered, and a boyish look that I, myself sixteen found stupendously appealing.”
From Tom’s observation that he had “…just met the handsomest man in the world,” we know that there is definitely more to come, and it is not long before he admits to “playing games” with himself in front of an ornate, “oval-shaped” mirror, secretly admiring a cherubic, blonde-haired choir boy, and having a crush on the elegant Reverend Timothy Blythe, D.D.
Then, on a mischievous schoolboy outing prompted by one of his school mates, he accompanies him to some of the seedier bars and clubs of the lower side, and one in particular; the Lustgarten or “pleasure garden.” Tom is shocked and intrigued by sight of men dancing together, some of them dressed as women, and of the lascivious interplay between younger and older. However, as shocked as he might be, he decides that this is the life for him. Inevitably, Mr. Neil Smythe shows up at the Lustgarten, and tom learns that he is employed by a call-boy ring owned by corrupt politicians and businessmen (quite conceivably “Boss” Tweed and the Tameney Hall gang). Intrigued by Smythe’s stylish way of life, Tom implores him to teach him the ‘tools’ of the trade, which Smythe does in a hands-on sort of way.
Being a quick learner Tom is soon out on his own, pleasuring the grey set with his charms, and being generously rewarded in return. His clients are numerous and varied, and here the author (through Tom’s words) out does himself with colourful and often amusing descriptions of their proclivities—from a European who masquerades as a nobleman; an ‘athletic’ lawyer; and even the Reverend Timothy Blythe, D.D.
Eventually Tom is sent to the townhouse of Walter Whitling, a formidable scholar in just about everything, including the Greek language, and after a rather tempestuous getting-to-know-one-another, the older scholar agrees to teach Tom Greek in the manner of an Erastes with his Eromenos. Thereby Whitling first undresses Tom, and seating himself in front of him he touches Tom’s genitals before proceeding where the scene ends.
Altogether this is a tale encompassing both sophisticated wit and humour, and yet the subject matter is the grotty underbelly of society as enacted by its leading citizens—including the Reverend Timothy Blythe, D.D. Indeed, as I followed Tom’s sexual romp through the streets of New York, I couldn’t get the image of that other Tom out of my mind i.e. “Tom Jones.”. It is absolutely delightful. Five Bees....more
If you are a regular follower, you might have noticed that I have an affinity for gay/historical/miGerry B's Book Reviews - www.gerrycan.wordpress.com
If you are a regular follower, you might have noticed that I have an affinity for gay/historical/military/genres. It is a natural outcome of my passion for history, and my self-identification with those who have faced the harsh brutalities of war. Courage like this should not be forgotten lest we make the same mistake again.
In Skybound by Aleksandr Voinov [Riptide Publishing, 2012] we find yet another reason to care. Two individuals caught up in the confict, Germans, seeing the evil regime of which they are part crumbling around them, and yet fighting on through a stalwart—but misplaced—sense of duty.
Well … One of them is, anyway. Baldur Vogt, a Luftwaffe ace, bold, handsome and dashing, flies his missions because it is what he does. On the other hand, Felix, a ground-crew mechanic does what he does to keep the man he loves (Baldur) as safe as he can make him, and with that simple revelation the whole perspective of war changes.
But that is only one thread in this complex tapestry, for Felix despairs that Baldur will ever respond in the way he (Felix) has dreamed. For one thing, Baldur comes from money, compared to Felix’s humble background, and even if this could be brushed aside, man-to-man love was an anathema in Hitler’s Arian scheme of things—a veritable death sentence.
Nonetheless, fate will have its way, and when Baldur somewhat miraculously escapes a bullet that otherwise had his name on it, he celebrates by taking Felix away for a few days of relaxation.
Once away from the harrowing events of the day, love blooms—a quiet, tender affection that emerges as naturally as a breeze on a warm summer’s day. Indeed, when it happens one cannot imagine it being any other way.
However, once the point is made, and given that the only world they know is crumbling around them, how does one go about getting a ‘happy ever after ending’ out of that?
That remains for readers to discover, but it is almost a textbook example of the short story art; i.e. get in, make the point, and get out, which Voinov does very well. In addition the various ‘flavours’ are as concentrated as a brandy that lingers, agreeably, on the palate. Five bees....more
Only Make Believe by Elliot Mackle [Lethe Press, 2012] is the second in a series, but the first I have read. However, it does very well as a stand-alone novel.
The story is set in post WWII, 1950s Fort Myers, FL, and is a next adventure in the lives of Dan Ewing, owner of the members-only “Caloosa Club,” and his closeted lover, Detective Bud Wright. Bud also works, part time, with the county sheriff’s office.
Both are good strong characters, but it is Dan who is the stronger, mostly on account of being comfortable in his own skin.
This particular adventure centres around a cross-dressing amateur singer who is murdered at the hotel, and the resulting publicity puts a strain on both men, particularly on Bud because of his clandestine sexual preferences—make that, ‘practices.’
One of the areas that I thought Mackle captured very well was the schizoid thinking of the time, regarding homosexuality. Homophobia was very much to the fore, of course, but even those who were somewhat sympathetic (i.e. marginally accepting) shrunk from the scene when forced to make a choice. Moreover, the over-the-top reaction of some homophobics made a nice bit of tension while the plot was unfolding.
Another aspect that I thought was both effective and clever was to show the impact of this tragedy on the victim’s 17 y.o. son. An aspect that is very often overlooked.
My quibbles are minor. For example, I thought the resolution of the murder investigation was a bit incredible (but not inconceivable), and although it is not specifically directed at this novel, I am beginning to weary of the ‘persecution complex’ that seems to be dominating most GLBT stories.
While persecution is an undeniable aspect of GLBT life that has existed since the advent of Christianity, the burden of this one particular theme is becoming repetitious. To borrow a phrase from renowned sociologist, Jane Jacobs, it is becoming the “Great blight of sameness.”
I do recommend Only Make Believe, however, as a well-conceived, superbly written murder mystery/romance. Four and one-half bees....more
As Halloween approaches I looked around for something along this line, and quite by accident I found Derek McCormack’s Grab Bag [Akashic Books, 2004], edited by Dennis Cooper, which expanded my knowledge of Canadian writers (always a happy occurrence!)
Derek McCormack is one of those treasures that Canada and the Canadian literati keep hidden under a bushel. It is probably due to the GBLT content of his works, which, as a genre, has yet to be anointed for consideration by any of the major awards. Indeed, when Dark Rides was first published, Globe and Mail’s book critic, Laura McDonald, had this to say:
Derek McCormack’s first published work, Dark Rides, was released in Canada this summer to little notice. It had three problems: It was slim, it was issued by a small press and its writer was unknown. Fortunately for McCormack and his readers, Dark Rides received more ink in the U.S. where, to be fair, there is more ink. Detour magazine even included him in its ‘Top Thirty Artists Under Thirty’ list. Why? Well, cynics might dismiss the book as trendy – a gay coming-of-age story. But anyone who reads the book closely will attribute the success to his skillful, tight-rope walking prose. – Laura MacDonald, Globe & Mail
Grab Bag is a combining of two McCormack novellas, Wish Book and Dark Rides. Wish Book is set in the depression era of the 1930s, and is a bizarre romp through as list of situations and circumstances that defy probability, and yet could have happened.
Dark Rides is set in the 1950s (an era I am nostalgically familiar with) and is the story of a teenage, Canadian farm boy trying to come to grips with his homosexuality. Regretfully he has less than a minimum of sophistication and no one to turn to in a small, roughneck community. It is a dark plot in some ways, and yet it is humorous on account of his naiveté.
I once read that successful writing is at once unique and universal, and this applies fairly well to McCormack’s style. It has a refreshing difference that almost defies comparison, and yet I was able to identify with the farm boy’s naive character quite well. Even the small community and its denizens were familiar to me.
Journalistically, McCormack is a minimalist. There is no superfluity or long poetic narratives here, only the bare minimum to tell the story and define the characters. Yet they were as developed as any I have read. They are a young farm boy and a ‘slicker,’ base individuals in a loveable way, and so too much development would clutter the picture.
Grab Bag is one of those stories that will stay with me long after I put it down. Five bees....more
In preparation for this week’s review, I went in search of a gay Canadian novel in all the usualGerry B's Book Reviews - http://gerrycan.wordpress.com
In preparation for this week’s review, I went in search of a gay Canadian novel in all the usual places (including Amazon.ca), but I may as well have gone searching for a unicorn! All I found were a couple of pages of outdated, academic, and even American offerings (i.e. The Best American Short Stories 2012). To add insult to injury, my own novels weren’t even included.
All was not entirely lost, however, for I came across a book I had read some time ago, For a Lost Soldier, by Rudi van Dantzig, [Gay Men’s Press, 1997], which is now out of print. However, a DVD film version (written and directed by Roeland Kerbosch, and starring Maarten Smit as young Boman, Jeroen Krabbé as the adult Boman, and Andrew Kelley as the Canadian soldier) is still available. The book and the film differ quite significantly, especially in the way the ending is constructed, but the basic story outline is the same.
Near the end of the war in Holland, eleven-year-old Jeroen Boman is sent to live in the country due to a food shortage in Amsterdam. However, despite a relative abundance to eat he is wracked with loneliness for his parents and friends.
This is subject to change when the village is liberated by a group of Canadian Troops, and Jeroen encounters a 20-something soldier named Walter Cook. Jeroen revels in the attention shown by Cook, and a relationship is formed between them that eventually becomes sexual in nature.
A dark cloud forms, however, when Cook’s regiment moves on, and he leaves without saying goodbye to a devastated Jeroen. Even the photograph of him—the only token Jeroen has left—is damaged by rain.
The remainder of the novel is dedicated to Jeroen’s life when he returns to Amsterdam, and the desperate but fruitless search for his first, lost lover. Eventually Jeroen is forced to realize that all he has left are memories.
Given the controversial nature of man/boy love, even when it is pseudo-autobiographical (as it is in this case), a number of people will be put off by this point alone. However, the sexual aspect in the novel is delicately handled, and in the film it is so subtle that one might actually miss it. What remains is a powerful story of coming of age, and the lifelong impact of first love. Five bees....more
Although Dos Equis (A Russell Quant Mystery, #8) by Anthony Bidulka [Insomniac Press, 2012] is the eighth in the series,Gerry B's Book Reviews
Although Dos Equis (A Russell Quant Mystery, #8) by Anthony Bidulka [Insomniac Press, 2012] is the eighth in the series, it is the first I have read. Nevertheless, I was able to get into the story and engage with the characters without any difficulty whatsoever.
To begin, I was fascinated by fellow-Canadian Anthony Bidulka’s background (which is slightly similar to mine in diversity), and conclude that this is what contributes to his broad range of knowledge on several topics. Travel being one of them.
The story opens in Zihuatanejo, Mexico, but after he receives a mysterious message from a fellow private investigator he returns to his native town of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.[I love the setting—the first for Saskatoon, I believe.] There, he is shocked to find her murdered, but using her files he discovers she was working on a case involving the deliberate food poisoning of a wealthy old lady. However, it was done in such a way (using botulism) that it is difficult, if not impossible, to prove.
To go about this the author very cleverly brings in a gang of characters from his previous seven books, Anthony Gatt, Jared Lowe, Sereena Orion Smith, and Errall Strane, and police contact Darren Kirsch, and well as his Ukrainian mother, Kate (a delightful personality.)
Along the way he finds romance, although this aspect is far from being homoerotic by any means.
Although the culprit is known fairly early, the ending is still clever and suspenseful.
Mr. Bidulka is a multi-award winning novelist and this is certainly evident in his style, character development and plot construction. The whole novel 388 pages (431 KB) reads as smoothly as satin, with flashes of wit that delighted the senses too. Five bees....more
Ever on the lookout for Canadian authors and/or Canadian content and history, especially from a gay perspective, I cameGerry B's Book Reviews
Ever on the lookout for Canadian authors and/or Canadian content and history, especially from a gay perspective, I came across Northern Lights, by James Matthew Green [CreateSpace Independent Publishing , June 23, 2012], and although the author is American this novel fills the latter two categories quite admirably. Moreover, it fits my concept of gay historical fiction to a “T” by giving history a face—albeit a fictional one—to represent those GBLT men and women who lived and loved in another time.
The story is set in the 1750s against the somewhat neglected backdrop of the so-called “French and Indian War ” (1754-1763) [more about this point below]. It is also the backdrop for James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans. However, in this novel the main character wasn’t merely raised by Indians, he is in fact half-Indian (Métis), and the other half being French. The Métis theme is also one that has been surprising neglected in the past, for few things can evoke the northern frontiers like a band of the bon vivant Métis and Coureurs de bois.
While these elements form the backdrop, and at times provide some exciting drama, the main theme here is spirituality—both Christian and Native. Being part Ojibwe himself, the author has provided some fascinating insights into Ojibwe spiritual beliefs, including Two Spirit culture, as the main characters, Daniel and Rorie, come to terms with contrasting beliefs and their sexuality.
I was particularly intrigued, as well, by the scenes involving ‘near death experience,’ for it was a widely held belief among many tribes that the spirit left the body to converse with inhabitants of the “Other Land,” and then returned with messages to “This Land.” In fact, I have used this theme in my forthcoming novel, Coming of Age on the Trail.
I was also struck by the way the author emphasized the reverence and respect Natives held for the environment around them without flogging the point. For indeed, that is how it was. It was a natural as etiquette is today—or was.
My quibbles are minor and technical, and probably wouldn’t even be noticed by anyone who wasn’t a former professor of history, but they stood out for me. The first, as I mentioned above, has to do with the use of the lable “French and Indian War” to describe the conflict. The author does acknowledge that this is an American term, but goes on to describe the Canadian equivalent as “The War of conquest.” Nope—not exactly. English-Canadians refer to it as “The Anglo-French Conflict,” while French-Canadians refer to it as “La guerre de la Conquête” (i.e. “The War of Conquest”.) In a country with two distinct cultures, and an underlying current of nationalism, that is a big deal.
My second quibble has to do with the term “Winnipeg;” as in “Winnipeg River.” Actually, the much later name Winnipeg is an English bastardization of the Cree word “Wīnipēk (ᐐᓂᐯᐠ)”, meaning “murky waters,” and contemporary maps of the period also show it as such.
That said, this is history as it should be told (and taught): A history lesson that can be absorbed while enjoying a truly enjoyable story. Four and one-half bees....more
It’s unanimous: Barry Brennessel’s novel The Celestial [MLR Press,LLC, September 6, 2012] is a great story! Most revieGerry B's Book Reviews
It’s unanimous: Barry Brennessel’s novel The Celestial [MLR Press,LLC, September 6, 2012] is a great story! Most reviews I have read have dipped into the superlative bag for apt descriptors, and I must agree.
My approach comes from my passion and accompanying research into American frontier history, including the California mining communities of the mid-1800s, and I must say that the author has captured the tone of these rough-and-tumble, gritty and grotty settlements remarkably well.
Set against this rugged backdrop is the wide-eyed naïveté of farmboy, Todd Morgan, and his companion Lâo Jian; both innocent romantics who just want to live and love in the midst of this harsh environment.
Part of Brennessel’s strength as a writer is his ability to create vivid characters who are both interesting and unique. Each character has a distinctive voice that sets him (or her) apart while contributing to the over all story. So, whether it’s Ned Calvert, Todd’s irascible uncle, or the young Irish miner, Breandon (on whom Todd has an early crush), they all contribute in their own way.
One of the regrettable aspects of frontier society was the degree of prejudice against certain ethnic societies, i.e. Native Americans and certain foreigners, especially–to the miners–the Chinese, who were called “Chinamen,” “Johnny Pig Tails,” or “Celestials” (because they came from the so-called “Celestial Empire.”)
The miners resented them because they saw them as competition, and distrusted them because they tended to stick to their own communities, which is not surprising since they were generally shunned elsewhere. As a result the Chinese were subjected to all manner of abuse, even murder, and Brennessel has done quite a credible job of portraying this.
Nonetheless, Todd and Lâo Jian persevere primarily because of the strength and love they derive from one another, and this is the inspirational theme that underlies the whole story. Highly recommended. Five bees!...more
I had previously passed on Longhorns by Victor J. Banis [Running Press, July 13, 2007] several times, fearing that the title was a euphemism for lonI had previously passed on Longhorns by Victor J. Banis [Running Press, July 13, 2007] several times, fearing that the title was a euphemism for long (male) ‘horns,’ but seeing the reaction it has received from so many readers, my curiosity finally got the better of me.
What I found was a pulp-style western, written (for the most part) in the classic vernacular. These are both good features from this reader’s point of view. Moreover, Victor Banis has also done quite a good job of capturing the atmosphere and camaraderie of a 19th-century cattle roundup; ruggedly independent men, interacting man-to-man, and free from the disruptive influence of women.
And, yes, there was sex between some of them [see: Queer Cowboys by Chris Pickard]. It was common for men in early Western America to relate to one another in pairs or in larger homo-social group settings. At times, they may have competed for the attention of women but more often two cowboys organized themselves into a partnership resembling a heterosexual marriage. This is reflected in a poem by the renowned cowboy poet, Charles Badger Clark, i.e.
We loved each other in the way men do And never spoke about it, Al and me, But we both knowed, and knowin’ it so true Was more than any woman’s kiss could be. We knowed–and if the way was smooth or rough, The weather shine or pour, While I had him the rest seemed good enough– But he ain’t here no more! The range is empty and the trails are blind, And I don’t seem but half myself today. I wait to hear him ridin’ up behind And feel his knee rub mine the good old way He’s dead–and what that means no man kin tell. Some call it “gone before.” Where? I don’t know, but God! I know so well That he ain’t here no more!
However, as can be seen from the above, it was seldom if ever overt, and this is where the story lost credibility with me. Buck was just a bit too out to be believable—or to have even survived, for that matter. Moreover, as several other reviewers have already noted, his fellow cowhands were also incredibly accepting of a way of life that was still considered “unspeakable.”
These are not fatal flaws, just niggling drawbacks, so I want to stress that this is an enjoyable story with some really strong writing, and a bang-on style. In fact, the style is every bit as authentic as Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour. Three and one-half bees....more
One of my favourite genre settings is the American Civil War. In reality it was a brutal conflict with unimaginable bloGerry B's Book Reviews
One of my favourite genre settings is the American Civil War. In reality it was a brutal conflict with unimaginable bloodshed and death, but it also had a strong element of gallantry and romance as represented by the young men, the ‘flower of manhood,’ who participated in it because of principles they were willing to die for. This is the sense I found in J.M. Synder’s period novel A Heart Divided [CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, July 27, 2011].
The story begins in March, 1865,just one month before Lee’s surrender at Appomattox on April 9th, 1865, and at the opening we find Confederate Lieutenant Anderson Blanks writing to his sister with the pathetic notion that he could well be de dead by the time she receives his letter. It is a powerful opening, and true, for death was always just one breath away in this conflict.
Snyder also does quite a fine job of capturing the tense environment of the encampment, frequently in sight of the enemies picket fires, and surrounded by the yet-to-be-retrieved wounded and dead. His men fear the voices of ghosts when they hear an enemy soldier crying out for water, but Blanks recognizes it as such and takes a lantern and a canteen in search of him.
This scenario struck a familiar chord, for I remembered reading about Sergeant Richard Rowland Kirkland, the so-called “Angel of Marye’s Heights,” and his heroic deeds.
The story goes that on hearing the cries of wounded Union soldiers: “Kirkland gathered all the canteens he could carry, filled them with water, then ventured out onto the battlefield. He ventured back and forth several times, giving the wounded Union soldiers water, warm clothing, and blankets. Soldiers from both the Union and Confederate armies watched as he performed his task, but no one fired a shot. General [Joseph B.] Kershaw later stated that he observed Kirkland for more than an hour and a half. At first, it was thought that the Union would open fire, which would result in the Confederacy returning fire, resulting in Kirkland being caught in a crossfire. However, within a very short time, it became obvious to both sides as to what Kirkland was doing, and according to Kershaw cries for water erupted all over the battlefield from wounded soldiers. Kirkland did not stop until he had helped every wounded soldier (Confederate and Federal) on the Confederate end of the battlefield. Sergeant Kirkland’s actions remain a legend in Fredericksburg to this day.” Wikipedia.
Whether or not Snyder was aware of this story is immaterial. What is relevant is that it makes a most powerful device by which to reunite Blanks with his tragically lost love, Samuel Talley.
The rest of the story pits the two of them against the ideological divisions of “north” and “south,” and the severity of Samuel’s wound. I won’t elaborate beyond saying that the tension is balanced with romance, and the writing is strong.
My quibbles are almost too trivial to mention, but at times I felt the coincidences were just a bit convenient.
Altogether, it is a true romance with an authentic core. Five bees....more
To me 12th-century England was a fascinating time, filled with knights, squires, wizards, and wonderfully mystical religioGerry B's Book Reviews
To me 12th-century England was a fascinating time, filled with knights, squires, wizards, and wonderfully mystical religions, all functioning in and around vast, primeval forests where Druids practised their ancient rites. Of these, the Greenwode, by J Tullos Hennig [Dreamspinner Press, January 18, 2013] is probably best known, i.e. all one has to do is add Rob of Loxley (or “Robin Hood”) to comprehend why.
As such, it is somewhat difficult to categorize this genre. It is mostly fantasy/fiction I suppose, since Robin Hood has never been proven to have existed, but otherwise it might be alternative history. Certainly Greenwood Forest and Druids existed, as did priories, convents, and the dominance of the Roman Catholic Church.
The problem I have with previous versions of Robin Hood, mostly created by Hollywood, is their ‘prettification’ of 12th-century England, with turreted castles (15th-century or later), impeccable clothes, and as one Hollywood Robin Hood put it, “Unlike other Robin Hoods, I speak with an English accent,”[Robin Hood: Men in tights]—albeit, a modern one.
Fortunately, this author has captured a good part of the dark and primitive atmosphere, which was circa-Crusade England, as well as the mix of old and new religions that existed at the time, and this scores well with me. After all, a period novel should be first and foremost true to the period.
I also like the plot, once again because it is consistent with the period. Rob is the son of a respected (yeoman) forester, but at the same time he is more than that. He is, in fact, a ‘crown prince” in the Druid religion—a future manifestation of the ‘Horned God.’
Gamelyn, his unlikely love interest, is the minor son of an earl, and a hidebound Catholic, but it is Rob’s simple nobility that eventually evens the playing field between them. Moreover, it is Rob who has the courage to question the horned god’s interpretation of the future.
This is a gutsy twist on a major classic that works. Not only that, but because of the realism, I believe it a step forward. A special mention as well for the absolutely stunning cover art. Five bees....more
I am always on the lookout for unique stories, or at least stories that have a unique aspect to them, so when I read theGerry B's Book Reviews
I am always on the lookout for unique stories, or at least stories that have a unique aspect to them, so when I read the intriguing blurb to Gives Light (Gives Light Series#1) by Rose Christo [self-published by Rose Christo, July 2012], I knew I was onto something quite unique.
Gives Light is the first of a trilogy by that name, and although I haven’t read the other two editions, I think it might be best to start the series with this particular volume. It is described as containing 353 pages (estimated) but when the spaces are deducted—between the block-style paragraphs—it is probably half that number.
If a story can be summed up in one word, then the word that applies to this story is “sweet.” There is not a lot of tension or angst, and even the sexual content is limited to kissing and a bit of petting, so unless the standard is particularly puritanical it would be quite appropriate for young adults.
The story is told from the point of view of Skylar St. Clair, a 16 y.o. Shoshone Native who has been mute since his throat was slashed during the murder of his mother some five years previous. From that time he had been living with his father until his father mysteriously disappears as well.
He is then put into the custody of his estranged grandmother who resides on the Nettlebush Reserve, and from then on it is the story of adjusting to reservation life; including learning the traditions, and getting to know its cast of characters.
For the most part these are all quite charming, typical teenagers, who readily welcome Skylar into their midst; all except for the enigmatic Rafael, son of murderer who slay Skylar’s mother. Yet, the two of them are gradually drawn together by both their commonalities and differences, and when they do finally unite it is like a blossom that blooms in the shadow of the forest; pure and fragile.
I found very few quibbles to mention: The writing is strong; the characters engaging; and both the plot and pace kept me involved. However, there were a few minor disparities that left me wondering. For example, it was never really explained how Annie Little Hawk learned to sign. ASL training is not universally available, and I would think less so on a remote reservation. Moreover, I occasionally thought Skylar’s language was a bit sophisticated for his background. One phrase that comes to mind is, “…Regardless of his administrations.” Grammatically it is quite correct, but not the sort of language a 16 y.o. would be likely to use.
I have already used the term “sweet,’ and now I’ll also add the terms “inspirational,” “heart-warming,” and “thoroughly enjoyable.” Four and one-half bees....more
Review by Gerry Burnie I have done a fair amount of research into WWI (1914 – 1918), and because of this I have developed a real admiration for the young men and women who fought and died in unfamiliar places like Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele. It was hell on earth with the “mustard” gas, the relentless mud, the rotting trench feet, and the barbarity in general, and their sacrifices should never ever be forgotten. Because of this, Fallen Snow, by John J Kelley [Stone Cabin Press, December 19, 2012] appealed to me as an appropriate memorial.
The story follows the experience of one young man from the rural uplands of Virginia to the battlefields of Alsace Lorraine, France, and back again. However, the man who left Virginia is not the man who returned; not emotionally, anyhow. For want of a better name hey called it “shell sock” back then, but we now know it as PTSD (“Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.”)
Complicating this even further is the fact that Joshua Hunter is also gay, which in the context of the time and rural setting was yet another source of emotional distress.
Along the way he meets a variety of characters, each with their own story, but only Aiden has the strength to help Joshua come to grips with himself.
I thought the author did quite a good job of depicting the battlefield scenes, although I would have liked to see them a bit more stark to reflect the reality of it, and even though I am unfamiliar with Virginia, I was able to visualize the Appalachian setting quite well. I could also identify with the insular society of his village, and with his ultra-conservative family.
I understand this is John Kelley’s debut novel, and so I look forward to reading more. Four and one-half bees....more
Ever on the lookout for gay Canadian content, when I saw the Toronto connection in K.C. Burn’s latest novel, Cover Up (Toronto Tales #2) [Dreamspinner Press, December 2012], I was immediately interested. Unfortunately the Toronto connection was merely a generic setting, and so there was very little by way of landmarks, etc., I could actually relate to. Not a big deal, but it would have been so much more meaningful to me, as an ex-Torontonian, to see a few more reference points.
Cover Up is the second in the “Toronto Tales” series, and although it is the first I have read, I do believe it would have been best to read them in order.
Gay Detective Ivan Bekker has just wrapped up a messy take down of some Russian Mafia drug dealers, during which his partner (and friend) was critically wounded, when his boss hauls him into his office to assign him to an undercover case—so undercover it isn’t even on the books. An alleged young up-and-comer in the Russian organization has advertised for a room mate, and Bekker is to take advantage of it to find out what he can about the kid and his involvement with the mob.
Inevitably the two meet and connect, but because of the secrets they individually harbour there is an invisible barrier between them. Nonetheless, Bekker finds himself becoming emotionally involved with his suspect, and more intent on saving him from the criminal element he is drifting toward than making an arrest. The angst, therefore, is the tension created by double lives they are each living.
There is a bad guy too, but since he is rather transparent from the beginning, he doesn't really add to the tension.
Some of the things I liked about this story are its adherence to plot, rather than eroticism, and the technically solid writing. It reads very smoothly, and there are some very nice descriptive passages. The dialogue is also quite effective in giving a personality to the minor characters, “Sarge,” especially.
Otherwise, I fear the plot devices sometimes stretched the boundaries of credibility to the limit—beginning with Parker conveniently advertising for a room mate at the right time to involve Bekker. I’m not saying it couldn’t have happened that way, mind you, but the odds don’t favour it.
Still, if you are a fan of romantic mysteries, there is much in this novel to like. Three bees....more
A brief overview of the books I’ve reviewed will reveal that I like westerns, especially those written in the classicGerry B's Book Reviews
A brief overview of the books I’ve reviewed will reveal that I like westerns, especially those written in the classic style, and here’s another one: End of the Trail by Jane Elliot [Manifold Press, February 23, 2013].
I was first attracted to it by Robert Plotz’s cover image—two men riding hard with unfurled lariats in their hands. It is evocative of the old ‘penny westerns,’ with lots of action portrayed; however, the only problem being that it has little to do with the story except the western theme.
The story itself is set in the old west, although no specific time period is mentioned. The main character, Will Connors, is a lonely rancher: hard working; honest; and mildly handicapped (game leg). He is also a widower whose son has gone east, and so he is left to work the ranch on his own.
He first meets John Anderson three years prior when Anderson rides onto his property, wounded. Connors and his wife nurse him back to health, but it is only after he leaves that they learn that Anderson is an outlaw. In the meantime Connors’ wife dies, and John Anderson unexpectedly reappears looking for sanctuary. In need of both the help and company, Connors consents, and the two men form a friendship that ultimately evolves into a sexual relationship as well.
I like the pace the author uses to bring it about. These are mature men, after all, and Will is anything but impetuous, so there is no hopping into the sack at the clank of a belt buckle. Neither are there any moments of high drama: i.e. shootouts, stampedes, or murderous villains. There is one scheming neighbour who is trying to for Will into a sale, but no range war erupts. Which brings me around to the blurb.
Story blurbs are important because these help the shopper decide whether the plot is interesting enough to invest money into it. Consequently, the writer usually gives it their best shot with a handful of colourful adjectives and superlatives. However, one must also be careful not to over do it either unintentionally or intentionally. In this case, while the blurb was well written, I felt the story didn’t quite reach the dramatic level suggested by it.
Mind you, I hasten to add that I was quite satisfied with the story as it was.
All-in-all, I feel justified in recommending End of the Trail for your reading enjoyment. Four bees....more
As a history buff I’m always on the lookout for new and heretofore unknown discoveries, and William Benemann has servGerry B's Book Reviews
As a history buff I’m always on the lookout for new and heretofore unknown discoveries, and William Benemann has served up a dilly with his intriguing biography, Men in Eden: William Drummond Stewart and Same-Sex Desire in the Rocky Mountain Fur Trade [Bison Books, October 1, 2012].
William Stewart was a Scottish nobleman—19th Laird of Grantully and 7th Baronet of Murthly—with an adventurous spirit, and a larger than life personality. Being gay, and at odds with his older brother John (the 18th Laird), he hied himself off to North America where men were men; women were scarce; and not just a few of the men were open to a bit of manly sex.
Sir William fit into this testosterone-dominated milieu rather well, being an expert rider and a better-than-average marksman, and as proof of this he was both liked and respected by such people as William Clark (of Lewis & Clark fame), and frontiersmen Kit Carson and Jim Bridger. He was also constantly surrounded by a retinue of young men, including a rakishly-handsome French Canadian Métis named Antoine Clement—undoubtedly Stewart’s lover—but if anyone noticed they either didn’t connect the possibility, or simply overlooked it.
Altogether, Stewart spent approximately seven years in America, returning to Scotland only briefly between 1839 – 1841 (with Antoine Clement in tow) when his brother John died—making William the 19th Laird of Grantully. When he returned (with a trunk full of costumes), he arranged for an elaborate, invitation only, huntin g party. It was a modest affair with only thirty-or-so guests, as well as cooks, servants, doctors, lawyers and such, but whether this was a bit beyond what frontier America was willing to accept, or whether times were changing, a fast-running scandal preceded him back to civilization, and from there he hastily returned to Scotland.
Obviously, this is merely a thumbnail-precis of the 384 pages of easily-read, meticulously researched, and fascinating story of the not-so-straight-West. My humble thanks to William Benemann for keeping this story alive, and for sharing it with us. Five Bees....more